Second end-of-year ranking! Characters make up a movie. They are the central focus of the story. They are, really, the most important part of a film. And, if I am being honest, 2021 had some of the best characters ever. Especially returning characters. Sequels such as No Way Home and Halloween Kills continued some of my favorite characters in ways that made me love them even more. Be sure to check out my ranking of the worst characters of 2021 by clicking on this sentence.
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SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE FOLLOWING:
In the Heights
The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Raya and the Last Dragon
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
The Suicide Squad
Zack Snyder's Justice League
Baroness von Hellman (Cruella): A really gross villain, but in a good way.
Phoebe Spengler (Ghostbusters: Afterlife): Very fun mini-Egon.
Shang-Chi (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings): Great new hero with an interesting origin.
Green Goblin (Spider-Man: No Way Home): Fantastic and horrifying continuation of Dafoe's villain.
Anthony McCoy (Candyman): A tragic character that is used well for social commentary.
Evan Hansen (Dear Evan Hansen): One of the most broken people ever put on screen.
Guy (Free Guy): One of the most likable and fun characters of the year.
Regan Abbott (A Quiet Place Part II): A compelling character with a good vulnerability.
Maria (West Side Story): A likable, charming, and great modern version of Juliet Capulet.
Doctor Octopus (Spider-Man: No Way Home): Incredible follow-through from Spider-Man 2.
And without further ado, here are my favorite characters of 2021.
15. Scorpion (Mortal Kombat)
As I've said ad nauseam, Scorpion and Sub-Zero were the best part of Mortal Kombat. Scorpion's character was really, really cool. He wasn't really prominent in the movie, but his origin in the beginning was shocking how good it was. And then his appearance in the final fight scene is just amazing. I love how he is teased throughout the movie and then comes back with his iconic catchphrase. It's great. I can't wait to see what they do with him in the future of the Mortal Kombat universe.
14. Nina Rosario (In the Heights)
Nina was another great character from In the Heights. She wasn't really a part of the main plot line, but her subplot was developed incredibly. Her character bears the burden of going to Stanford and being "the one who got out". Her peers need her to be successful to give her hope, and the film does a great job of showing how she reacts to that. Her relationship with her father is a roller coaster of emotions that concludes with a great scene at the end that made an appearance twice on my Best Quotes of 2021 list.
13. Katie Mitchell (The Mitchells vs. the Machines)
Katie is the second most relatable character of the year. She is an outsider in her own family, and finally finds a place where she fits in with film school. However, her family wants to take her on a road trip one last time, even though she does not want to go. During this road trip, the robot apocalypse happens, yada yada yada. Fighting off the robots is a family bonding experience and provides a great, fun stage for Katie's emotional arc to take place as she learns to fit in with her family.
12. Michelle "MJ" Jones-Watson (Spider-Man: No Way Home)
One of the key things about No Way Home was MJ and Peter’s relationship. If that doesn’t work, the entire emotional aspect of the film is just vaporized. But it worked. MJ clearly demonstrates that she cares for Peter and wants to help him get through this hard time but is also bummed out about her future being ruined. Nevertheless, she stays on Peter’s side. Her dynamic with all of the characters is great, and Zendaya was fantastic, so it made her one of the most charming, most likable, and most emotional characters of the year.
11. Cruella de Vil (Cruella)
Cruella de Vil has always been a super fun and iconic character, and she was done extremely well in Cruella. Although I did have a few problems with her not being a complete villain, at the end of the day, it wasn't really the fault of the character and more a problem with the script. She was given a great backstory and a developed, emotional backstory that made her shockingly relatable. I enjoyed this character a lot, and I am curious to see where they take her in the confirmed sequel to Cruella.
10. Mirabel Madrigal (Encanto)
The award for most relatable character of the year goes to Mirabel. She was one of the most devastating characters in one of the happiest movies. Imagine if your entire family had incredible superpowers, and, as a child, you are promised that you will receive your own set of powers. But you don't. While your family has amazing gifts, you are just normal. That'd be really rough. And that's Mirabel's character. They made her likable and sad, and that's exactly what you would expect. This character was executed to near perfection. Only thing holding her back is there wasn't really any explanation for why she never got her gift.
9. Yelena Belova (Black Widow)
Yelena was one of the more charming and fun characters in the MCU. Florence Pugh was great as Natasha's sister. She was extremely funny, but also has a really interesting character, because she was lied to about the first five or six years of her life. She thought she had a real family, but it was fake. And her fake family lied to her and told her it was real. That's a pretty traumatizing childhood, and I think that it adds to her character. The combination of that with the charm and likability makes her great.
8. Ratcatcher 2 (The Suicide Squad)
Definitely one of the biggest surprises from a character this year, Ratcatcher 2 had a great journey from beginning to end. She was funny and likable, bringing some levity to the Suicide Squad itself, but was also greatly developed throughout the film. Her backstory is incredible. Her relationship with Bloodsport and seeing him as somewhat of a father figure is great. The way she is used in the finale to help beat Starro is fantastic. I hope that this character is used in future DCEU movies and developed even more.
7. The Flash (Zack Snyder's Justice League)
The Flash is one of my favorite superheroes of all time, and I think that 2017's Josstice League completely botched the character. He was funny and a good comedic relief, but his character was just terrible. He's still comedic relief in Zack Snyder's Justice League, but he has an amazing character arc that ends with him literally saving the world. He overcomes his fears and changes his future, becoming a great character that I can't wait to see in his upcoming solo movie.
6. The Mandarin (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings)
Wenwu was definitely one of the best MCU villains. We got to see him as both a good and a bad guy. His motivations really were not that evil and neither was his end goal. But his ways of going about it was the part that made him an antagonist. You can see that he cares about his family, but the Ten Rings are infecting him. He's still grieving from the death of his wife, which makes him leave his children behind. His final sacrifice at the end of Shang-Chi was a powerful moment, and solidified him as a top tier MCU villain and character.
5. Usnavi de la Vega (In the Heights)
In the Heights was one of the best films of 2021, and the lead character of Usnvai definitely contributed to that. He was a charming, cool, and fun protagonist played to utter perfection by Anthony Ramos. He was a big dreamer, and the way that his arc is done in the film is fantastic. I love the changes that his character goes through and how you see it all play out in close detail. Usnavi is a super likable and great lead, and he's part of the reason that I loved In the Heights.
4. Namaari (Raya and the Last Dragon)
Namaari was one of the best Disney villains and one of the most complex characters of the past few years. She has a really interesting relationship with Raya, because they are friends turned enemies, but both of them have to overcome their issues and learn to trust each other to fight a common enemy. They had a great little dynamic, but I thought Namaari was just a more interesting character than Raya. She is torn between her loyalties to Fang and living up to her stature while also looking for Sisu and trying to help stop the Druun. She's an extremely layered and complicated character, and easily one of the best in 2021.
3. Michael Myers (Halloween Kills)
As I have said multiple times before, Michael Myers is my favorite horror movie villain. And Halloween Kills solidified that. While Michael himself had less screen time than you would think, he had a presence throughout the film that was very strong. He affected all of our characters very differently, and I found that interesting. Whenever he was on screen, carnage ensued, and that was really fun to watch. I also loved the third act, where he is unmasked and beaten by a mob only to get up and massacre them. That was sick. And I cannot wait to see him die in Halloween Ends.
2. Cyborg (Zack Snyder's Justice League)
Zack Snyder's Justice League has topped a few of the 2021 lists, but this is the most important one. Cyborg was the heart and soul of the Snyder Cut, and I think that the movie would've honestly been bad without him. They give him this deep, rich backstory that gives him proper motives to join the Justice League while also making you understand why he's hesitant at first. His power set is fully fleshed out and used for great payoff in the finale. After the Snyder Cut, Cyborg became one of the best characters in the DCEU, and I'm so excited to see how he's used going forward.
1. Spider-Man (Spider-Man: No Way Home)
Spider-Man was my second favorite superhero, but No Way Home made him tied with Batman for my favorite. What this film did was let Tom Holland’s Spider-Man learn the lesson that Tobey and Andrew learned in their first movie: With great power comes great responsibility. However, this trilogy took it’s time to show us an irresponsible Peter Parker in the first two movies: in Homecoming, he is reckless and ends up getting his suit taken away by Stark. In Far From Home, he willingly gives Mysterio the EDITH glasses. And, in No Way Home, he unleashes a multiverse of villains that attack New York and kill his aunt. But, by the end of No Way Home, he is responsible and allows Doctor Strange to cast the spell and have everyone forget so that the MCU universe isn’t overwhelmed by people from other universes. And, in the final scene of the movie as he tries to talk to MJ, he sees the band-aid on her forehead and is reminded that he cannot get her hurt, so he lets her forget him and be safe. It’s an incredible character arc that has such emotional weight, and it cements Holland as my favorite Spider-Man, as well as one of my favorite movie heroes of all time.